The enemy is hiding in a ditch just feet from your location, armed with assault rifles and an intent to kill you. Seconds before they attack, your canine companion detects them, lunges and takes two fatal shots as you are hit with a career-ending bullet to the upper leg.
After a distinguished career as a Navy SEAL, James Hatch continued to engage enemies but these enemies were not hiding. The pending battles were personal but not uncommon, especially for current or prior servicemembers. Hatch had developed mental health issues. Suicidal ideations conjured constantly along with accompanied alcohol and opioid addictions, as he started a new life, civilian life.
His new life quickly brought him straight to a mental hospital for treatment for addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder and then for follow-on extended counseling and therapy sessions. Hatch now brings his story of mental health issues and the need for proper treatment to as many people as he can through speaking engagements and through his work at a non-profit organization providing care for working dogs.
“I speak on the reputation of mental health issues and I try to help people realize they need to help each other out,” said Hatch. “Anybody is a candidate to suffer from depression, suicidal ideations or substance abuse, and anybody can help.”
To enrich an annual learning experience, Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) Norfolk leadership coordinated and supplemented the required Navy’s General Military Training on suicide prevention with a presentation from the 24-year veteran, expert military dog handler and recognized author.
“NOSC Norfolk is responsible for 117 Reserve units, so the idea was to supplement mandatory suicide prevention training to make it more dynamic and give suicide prevention a different approach than traditional training,” said Lt. Ashley Saylor who serves as the training officer for NOSC Norfolk.
For the more than 1,000 Reserve Sailors at the presentation who were familiar with the traditional mandated training, Hatch’s story resonated in comparison to traditional mandated training.
“If every suicide prevention training was like this — I would welcome hearing personal stories from real people, it was phenomenal,” said Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Ryan Cawley. “Having someone that can relate to you and isn’t droning away on a presentation — I was engaged the entire time.”
The key message of the presentation centered on the fact that a lot of people do not ask for help due to fear of the stigma attached to mental health issues. Hatch stressed that the fear must be overcome and that it’s not only acceptable to seek help, but also necessary.
“Seeing the proverbial tough guy explain that it’s ok to be vulnerable and find help was great to see and hear,” said Ship’s Serviceman 3rd Class Anthony Spence.
The road to recovery was not swift for Hatch, but eventually he used the resources at his disposal. He realized that much like a physical ailment, mental issues need the attention of professionals and support for rehabilitation.
“If you sprain your ankle, you’ll go see a doctor — let’s say to get a brace, to help recover from that physical injury,” said Hatch. “If you’re having mental health issues for any particular reason, it’s important you go talk to a professional, get what you need to get better so you can get back to work and get healthy.”
The presentation mirrored the standard Navy training in that it is important to realize no one is immune from mental health issues and that anyone can provide the support needed to help someone struggling through issues, addictions and suicidal ideations.
“You might be the person who is struggling right now, but in a couple weeks you also might be the person who reaches out and pulls someone through a tough time,” said Hatch. “You still have something to offer and are able to serve other people. The qualities that qualified you to enter the Navy are still there, you just have to figure out how you’re going to use them.”
The Navy Reserve’s suicide prevention coordinator, Lt. Cmdr. Evelyn Palm, weighed in on Hatch’s message.
“There is no room for stigmatization in our Navy,” said Palm. “The bond we share as Sailors is a great supportive mechanism to promote peer connectedness and an excellent strategy to utilize to support one another. ‘Every Sailor Every Day’ is a reminder that suicide prevention is an all hands responsibility.”
According to the Navy Suicide Prevention Branch, a majority of Sailors who die by suicide experience a combination of stressors prior to death that have been historically associated with suicide in the Navy. Stressors include:
- Intimate relationship problems
- Loss (death of a friend or loved one, etc.)
- Disrupted social network
- Disciplinary and/or legal issues
- Work problems (performance and conduct, work relationships, etc.)
- Sleep problems
- Financial strain
The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center states that understanding suicide warning signs and risk factors can empower Sailors to help identify, prevent and intervene early to save lives.
Both groups offer valuable resources to be used not only by Sailor and Marines who need a helping hand, but also by family members and friends. For more information on the Navy’s support and services for suicide prevention, click here. To view or download the FY-19 1 Small Act, click here. To view or download the Navy Suicide Prevention Handbook, click here.
For more news from Commander, Navy Reserve Force, visit www.navy.mil/local/nrf/.